Locals put the crisis into a perspective that’s easy to understand.
Louisiana loses a football field of land every hour of the day.
“Even my customers are starting to recognize it now,” says charter boat captain Ripp Blank. “And it don’t come back once it leaves.”
Blank has been fishing the waters around Bayou Barataria — 30 miles or so north of the Gulf of Mexico — his entire life. If you’re a newcomer, it can be hard to discern where the water ends and the land begins.
Charter boat captain Ripp Blank at Joe’s Landing Marina in Barataria, La. (Virginia Hanusik for Here & Now)
“It washes through little cuts and then before you know it a boat might go through it, two boats might go through it and then it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, deeper and deeper,” Blank says of the vanishing land. “And before you know it, it’s gone.”
The Mississippi River Delta is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The river carries tons of sediment hundreds of miles to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural flooding over thousands of years has built up the land. But modern flood control has stopped the natural cycle, and now the land is sinking.
The delta is also rich with wildlife. The shrimpers at Joe’s Landing, where Blank launches his boat into the bayou, are part of a $350 million commercial fishing industry that is under threat in Louisiana.
It’s been throttled in recent years by powerful hurricanes and the 2010 oil spill that killed fish, and the region’s reputation for fresh seafood. But coastal erosion is a slower-moving crisis, changing the environment that Blank and others have relied on for years.
Water levels around Barataria will rise nearly 3 feet in the next 50 years if nothing is done to restore the marshland, according to the state’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan, which is set for approval in the legislature this week.
“We water people. We can’t leave,” says Blank, when considering predictions that routine flooding will make daily life next to impossible in the next half century. “This is all we know. You get water. Water goes away you come back. Start all over again.”